Friday, August 14, 2020

Diary of Esau Johnson Part 5 1811-1815 Hunting

This is a continuation of part of a handwritten diary kept by Esau Johnson, 1800-1882 who lived on Allison Prairie from 1811-1815.

"There was another man by the name of Thomas Hobs, came there from where this Howard family had lived. He said to Mr. William Howard, you buy out Mr. Johnson and I will give you $200 for 20 acres and you sell to me so as to let me come to the well. Father had offered to sell to Mr. Howard for $400. Mr. Howard then came and bought out Father.

"The next day, father bought out a Lewis Gowen for $200, adjoining the place he sold to Mr. Howard, that had nearly as much improvements on it as the one he sold to Mr. Howard. Gowen gave possession right off and Father moved on to that place. Mr. Howard had two boys near the age of my brother, John and we got intimate with them.

"Mr. Howard had one large dog and Hobs had two. We said, when the furs got good, we would catch raccoons with the dogs.  Father had one that we had caught some raccoons with the winter or spring before.

"Brother John and I went out one morning in the month of February, 1813, with our dog hunting. As soon as we got to the big swamp we heard our dog commence barking. We knew from his bark that he had caught one on the ground. We went to him and as we got close to him, he took hold of it to kill it. He would not kill one till we would come to him. As it began to squeal, I saw another one running up a small tree close by.

"When our dog had killed that one, I went and climbed the little tree to shake off the other, but it went way out on a small limb and did cling so close to it that I could not shake it loose. So I took my knife out of my pocket, opened it and cut the limb off and threw it down with it. The dog killed that one while I was getting down from the tree. We started our dog and directly we heard him bark again.

"We went to him and he was barking at the lower end of a soft maple that had a hollow in the butt of it and leaned over very much. I went to chopping on the upper side of it. When I cut into the hollow some half way through, it began to crack and split till it broke and fell to the ground. There were two raccoons in it.

"Then daylight began to show pretty plain and we said we would go home. We had as many as we could well carry home. We started to go out of the swamp and heard our dog bark again, we went to him and he was barking at the root of a large willow tree that had a big round swell on its root, some 3 feet across to it. There was a hole in one side of it, but not large enough for the dog to get at it.

"I cut the hole so the dog could get in. He went in and began to fight in the tree. Soon he came out bringing a big old he raccoon with him. I heard something else in there, I stood at the hole with my axe in my hand so as not to let anything get out as soon as he had killed the one, he went back in and brought out another one.

"Still I heard something else in there. When he made an end of that one, he went and got another one. Still there was something in the willow root yet. After killing the third one, he came and went in and brought a fourth one out. Then we took all of them to where we had left the other four.

"We said that we could not carry them all home, so we hung them up there, said we would go home, get a horse and cutter and come back for them. We went home, told father what we had done and we wanted to go and get them. Father said we should let them stay till tomorrow morning, get up before dawn, take our Nellie and my cutter and go get them and catch some more. That suited us well.

"We got up before daybreak, took the mare and cutter and went. Soon after we started, we heard our dog bark. He had gone on ahead and got two raccoons up one little soft maple tree just at the edge of the swamp. I climbed it and made one of them jump down and the dog caught it.

"The other one,  when that one began to squeal, climbed up as high as it could climb, and then came down close to where I was out on a limb, stopped there till the dog had killed the one that I had made jump down. I went up the tree until I got both feet on the limb the raccoon was on and begin to jump on it. The raccoon thought it had best get away from the place where it was, so it came towards me till it was within three or four feet of the body of the tree then it jumped for the body of the tree and missed catching it and down it went.

"We kept on till daylight came. By then we had caught eight more, so we had 16 raccoons in all. We put them on the cutter and started for home.

"Soon after starting, we heard our dog bark up on the bluff south of us. We tied the mare and went up on the bluff to him. We had a wildcat up on a leaning white oak tree. I went to it and began to chop on it. The wildcat did not like that so it jumped. The dog caught it as it came to the ground. I ran to him with my axe. I helped him with the axe and we killed it. We then took it, went to where we left the mare and cutter, put in the wildcat and started again for home. (Remember this is a 13 year old boy taking on a wildcat with an axe.) 

"We heard our dog began giving tongue on the bluff ahead of us. We went on and pretty soon we saw a deer coming toward us along the edge of the bluff, where it could not get up. When it saw us, it turned out onto the marsh where it was all glare ice. There it slipped and fell and the dog caught it by one ear. The deer bleated with all its power, the dog shaking it by the ear with all his might. I went with the axe to them and knocked it on the head, then we took it to the mare and cutter and went home.

"Then, in the month of March, 1813, my brother John and I went out north to the big swamp that was called Purgatory. There, as we were going along a path, I saw an otter coming, meeting us and caring something black in its mouth.

"I began to call our dog when the otter dropped what it was caring, turned and ran back from us. Then I saw our dog going on its track. He caught the otter but it caught him by one leg and made him holler. I ran to them.

"The thing the otter was carrying and dropped when I came to it was crawling along. I thought it was something the otter had caught and stamped one foot on it as I run going to relieve my dog, for fear of his letting the otter get away from him.

" I helped him to kill the otter and then went back to see what I had stamped on. It was a young otter. It was breathing yet but the blood was running out of its mouth and it soon quit breathing. I was very sorry that I had killed it -I would not have killed it for $10. But it was killed.

"In the spring, a fur merchant came and father sold our furs to him. He got $42 for us and the money he got for one raccoon hide was $.20."

Ed Note: More of this diary will be published later. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Diary of Esau Johnson Part 4 1811-1815 Rattlesnakes

This is a continuation of part of a handwritten diary kept by Esau Johnson, 1800-1882 who lived on Allison Prairie from 1811-1815. He would have been a 13 year old boy in the story that follows:


"In 1813, when my father was living in Allison Prairie, Lawrence County Territory of Illinois, he hired one Joab Hayden to work for him in the month of February and went to quarrying rock to build a chimney with. In getting the rock, they pried up a large flat rock under which there was a seam or crevice, some six or eight inches big and in that seam, there was a quantity of large rattlesnakes that had crept into the opening in the rock. They were stupid and would not try to bite.

"When they got to one of these openings it would be full of the rattlesnakes. Joab Hayden would throw them out with his hand and then he would run his arm into the openings in the rock as far as he could reach, get hold of the big rattlesnakes, pull them out, and throw them out on the ground and Father would kill them. I thought I would rather it was him than me. The snakes were almost lifeless and would not try to bite.

"They got 350 of them that day in quarrying the rock for the chimney. Then, the last days of February, a William Howard moved there from Tennessee and bought land just west of Father’s and stopped there, put the house up on his land adjoining Father’s and we were close neighbors. Mr. Howard had two boys just the ages of my brother, John and me.

"Then we four boys were out together about the middle of March. It was warm and very nice, I thought about the rattlesnakes and then said to the other boys, don’t you think the snakes are out, it is so very warm? They said yes, so we then went to the stone quarry.

"When we got to it we found lots of the large rattlesnakes out all around. We got us a stick each and went to killing the snakes. We killed them till we all began to feel sick in the stomach. Then we went to a spring and washed our mouths and drank some water. After washing and drinking, we felt alright and went back to the snake den and went to killing them again till their scent would make us sick.
Then we would go and wash and drink water and return to our work killing snakes.

 "At last, getting tired of killing them, we went to a little thicket of poles and with our pocketknives we cut a long pole. Then we peeled some elm bark in long strips, cut us some little forked sticks, went back to the rattlesnakes then. One of us would find a snake, set his forked stick over it’s head or neck so that he held it fast that the snake could not draw its head out. Then another one of us would tie the end of one of those long strips of elm bark around the snake’s neck so that it could not get its head out. Then tie the other end of the strip to our pole. So we kept to work till we got 37 large rattlesnakes tied to our pole.

"Then two of us boys got one end of the pole and the other two boys to the other end and we snaked them home to father’s cow lot where we turned our cows in to milk them.  In that lot there stood a large jackal tree. I climbed the tree and the other boys loosed the bark from the poles and handed me the end. I drew the snake up and hung him. Kept doing so till we hung all of them on the limbs of that tree. 

"The snakes sung lively all the evening. When our cows came home and we turned them in the lot, they jumped, run and bawled. The girls could hardly get to milk them. We let our snakes hang all night. In the morning they were all of them entirely dead. My father said we must not do so anymore for we might get bit by the rattlesnakes."    (Ed Note:  You think?)

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Diary of Esau Johnson Part 3 1811-1815 Watermelons on the Prairie

This is part of a handwritten diary kept by Esau Johnson, 1800-1882 who lived on Allison Prairie from 1811-1815.

"The next season we were living in Allison prairie, Lawrence County, Illinois. I planted watermelon seeds and raised a fine lot of watermelons.

"When sometime in August, 1811, I took the ague again, Mother said I must quit eating watermelon as I had the ague and she thought they would hurt me. I quit and for three days I had none and had the ague every day.

"The fourth day there was evident tokens of a change. There was a boy about my size seen going to the watermelon patch when he felt the ague coming on him. I went into the melon patch, cut open and ate of them as long as I felt any of the effects of the ague.

" I then went to the house and when I went and Mother said, there, now that fellow has been to the watermelons again and I said, well, Mother, I waited three days and did not get well of the ague and I could not wait any longer. That mess cured me of the ague so that I had no more ague that season.

"After that, let me be where I would and take the ague, let me get a good mess of watermelons and they always did cure me, they never failed to cure me.

"Now I was 80 years old the 21st day of August last and this is the 10th day of December, 1880, and I have never had more than four shakes of the ague at a time since I found the cure for it.

"The time to take the watermelons is just as you feel the ague coming on, then go to eating them, drink no water or tea of any kind and eat of the melons till the ague goes entirely off and I believe it will cure the ague every time, that it will be effectively cured and it will not return that season anymore, for I know that medicine did cure me every time from 1811 till now."

Ed Note:  Ague is an old term for a fever (such as from malaria) that is marked with chills, fever, and sweating, all recurring at regular intervals.The disease was transmitted by mosquitoes and was a leading cause of chronic illness across America from the colonial period until the 1900s. American settlers were plagued by ague if they lived near wetlands, such as Purgatory Swamp on Allison Prairie. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Diary of Esau Johnson Part 2 1811-1815


This diary written by Esau Johnson describing his early life on Allison Prairie 1811-1815  is the first source that researchers have seen that even hints of another 1812 fort in present Lawrence County other than Fort Allison at present Russellville, the Embarras Blockhouse near Small’s Mills, and Fort Tougaw at present St. Francisville.


"So, the men said they liked the place and would like to stay, if it was not for the Indians. Father said he thought there was no danger of the Indians. The men said, if you say so we will stay and build a fort. Their names were as follows: Blithe McCorkle and his wife’s brother, William Campbell, and John Berry. Father said he did not apprehend any danger now so they stayed, cut logs, hauled them out and built four blockhouses in a square that took in 6 rods square and set pickets from one house to another so as to take in the 6 rods square.

"Then they built a pound to keep horses in at night. They built that of good stout logs or poles and put a long chain around each panel and board down in each corner with father’s 2 inch auger and pinned them fast together so that they could not be got down without cutting. After getting that done, Blithe McCorkle and John Berry went for their families and left William Campbell with us. 

"Soon after the men left, Peter Shidler came to Father’s from Preble County, Ohio, where Father had lived. After he got to Father’s, he and William Campbell went to making rails to fence with and Father helping. He made me drive his team with the wagon. They would load it with rails and I drove out on the prairie where father had staked off a 20-acre field. There I would throw them off and go back to the men, they would reload the wagon till I got the rails strung pretty near all around the 20 acres.

"Peter Shidler said he wanted to have him a field right joining Father’s on the West so Father went with him. They staked off a 10- acre field for him and set me to hauling rails around for Peter Shidler. Then McCorkle and Berry came back with their families. They went into the two blockhouses that they claimed when they went away, Blithe McCorkle in the one in the southwest corner of the square and John Berry in the one in the southeast corner. Peter Shidler occupied the one in the northwest corner and Father the one in the northeast corner.

"Then William Campbell went and helped his brother-in-law, Blithe McCorkle. He had selected a place about 1 mile and one half from Father’s and Berry’s was some 2 miles south. They went to making rails to fence with till spring came. 

"Word came that the Indians had killed some family that had been living up north in the Lamont Prairie and burned their houses, destroying everything as they went. Then the men stopped making rails for a little while. Father said he must have his field fenced or we would soon starve. He and Peter Shidler took their guns and an old dog that Peter Shidler had brought with him from Preble County, Ohio, and went to making rails and to sawing out.

"After we had worked three days, when I was out there, Peter Shidler and father were loading the wagon with rails, when the old dog got up from where he was laying, turned his hair up on his back and began to growl, and started off north. Peter Shidler and father took their guns and followed him till he went to that big swamp called Purgatory. There they stopped and came back to me. I went to loading the wagon. 

"The dog got up again, growled, turned his hair up and started off east. Father said to me, you go home and stay there. Don’t come out again. They took their guns, followed the dog some ways and then they came back to the fort. That evening, the Indians killed a man by the name of Baird, where he was plowing in his field, scalped him, took his team. They did not go to his house as there was nothing disturbed there.

"About two weeks after that, the Indians came to Fort Allison, 6 miles east from our fort, and stole 14 horses and took them off northwest, in the night. Our dogs barked and made a terrible fuss and four of our men took their guns and followed the dogs till they went to the timber. There, the men stopped. 

"When the men came back they said they were sure it was Indians. They plowed across the prairie but it was so dark they could not see but little. The dogs went ahead and were making as though they would take hold of something. They said they believed the Indians would’ve shot the dogs, only they feared to shoot for fear their shooting would give so much light that our men would see them.

"Next morning, two men came from Fort Allison to our fort, big James Bryant and Caleb Anderson. When they got within some 60 rods of the fort, two of the men went to meet them to make the dogs let them come to the fort. James Bryant said there was no danger of the Indians at our fort, for if the devil would come, the dogs would take him and kill him if he undertook to come to the fort."
continued tomorrow...

Monday, August 10, 2020

Diary of Esau Johnson Part I 1811-1815


This is a typed copy of a handwritten diary kept by Esau Johnson. The original is kept at the University of Platteville, Platteville Wisconsin. The transcription of the diary came from Steven Cole in Freeport Illinois,  the Frederick Douglas presenter at the Historical Society a few years ago.  The diary mentions Caleb Anderson, possible ancestor of Steve Cole and possible father of the Rev. Duke W. Anderson, the former Lawrence County farmer who became a trustee of Howard University and a Justice of the Peace in Washington, D.C. after the Civil War.  

Over the next few days we will post  from the transcript of this diary the part that  describes life on Allison Prairie during the time of 1811-1815. 


Esau Johnson was born on the 21st day of August, 1800, in North Carolina and died in 1882 in Wisconsin, it is believed.   He wrote his life story at age 80.  The first part of the diary talks about his childhood in North Carolina and the family moving to Dayton, Ohio. After a few years they moved to Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and from there the family moved to Allison Prairie in 1811.They stayed there until 1815. Esau would have been 11-15 years of age when he lived on the prairie.

(The southeast corner of the Johnson farm was 1/2 mile north of the Centerville church/school. Howard Cemetery is located at the northwest corner of the Henry Johnson farm in the northwest quarter of section 23,T4N,R11W.)


"Father (Henry Johnson) took one of his horses and went to Vincennes. He crossed the river there and went 8 miles out from Vincennes on to Allison Prairie. He found a piece of land there that suited him, went back to the land office and bought it. He came back to the fort, stayed until February, then said he did not think there would be any trouble with the Indians.

"He said to mother, he thought it would be best for us to go on to the land he had bought. Mother said then go. We started on the third day of February, 1811, to go to our home on Allison Prairie, 8 miles northwest of Vincennes. We got there that night, to Vincennes. The weather had turned very cold for that part of the country and froze the river over, good and stout. On the morning of the fourth day of February 1811, father took his axe and went and cut holes in the ice to try to get all the way across the river.

"He came back and said he believed the ice would bear to cross on, for he found no place but what the ice was 4 inches. Father then started, drove down to the edge of the ice, took off his hind horses so as to have the weight as far apart as he could get it. The family all got out of the wagon and waited till he crossed and came back to us, took the other horses and led them across the river, on the ice and with us following him. After we crossed, we went on to the land that father had bought. There was a little timber on one corner of it. There we stopped and pitched our tent for the night.

"Next morning we took our axes and started to the timber to cut some house logs. As we were going to the timber, I noticed a large bulge on the black oak tree. I said to my father, look there, is not that a good place for bees. He said yes. I run to it and when I got to it, I saw the bees pouring out and into it.

"The day we crossed the Wabash River, the weather changed and got very warm. We went, cut some house logs and the next morning went and cut the bee tree. It was an old one, must have had at least 150 pounds of honey in it. A large part of the honey was candied in the cups as white as tallow. We cut our house logs, drawed them out where father wanted his house and laid the foundation. 

"Then Father went 6 miles east to Fort Allison, got eight men, to come and help raise his house. He got John Allison, Richard Allison, William Mills, Peter Kuykendale, Adam Lackey, James Bryant and Caleb Anderson. Also Samuel Allison. They came and helped to put up our house in the month of February.

"Then, in two weeks after our house was put up, the Indians came one night and stole four head of horses from Fort Allison, and took them off. The next morning, two men followed their trail to where there was a beaver dam across the big swamp that people called Purgatory. There the Indians had crossed the horses on that dam. The men thought it was not best for them to try to cross there, as the Indians were across and they would have all the advantages of them if they went to cross the swamp called Purgatory. So they came back and let the horses go. Soon after that, there were three men came to father’s that came from Tennessee, who said as they were crossing the Wabash River, they saw three Indians in a canoe going down the river and the ferryman said the night before, there had been three horses stolen from the upper end of town. They were much afraid the Indians would come and kill us, but father said the Indians were not going to kill anybody yet. All they wanted was to steal some property. Yet they might go to killing after a while of England gave them premiums for killing a man and bringing his scalp."

continued tomorrow...

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Skinny Dipping Will Not Be Allowed Nor Will Grape Theft

Orville Knepper of Lawrenceville, a precocious youth, was arrested by Chief Rosborough and placed in city jail. He had been in the habit of helping himself to grapes in James Hardacre’s back yard and was caught in the act, August 10. After a few hours in jail he was given a lecture by the mayor and Judge Conover and released.  (Tough neighborhood when you get arrested for eating a few grapes from your neighbor’s vines….)

Lawrenceville August 1920: Lawrenceville Republican  "The city police are endeavoring to break up the gang of boys who spend most of their time swimming in the river near the cemetery.  Bathing suits are unknown among the boys and the language they use is not heard in polite society; hence, the officers are trying to stop the practice.  The old swimming hole is in plain view of persons who visit the cemetery and complaints have been lodged with the police."

Ed Note:  You know who you are, so you should stop skinny dipping in the river or at least stop swearing when you do it.  

Apparently the use of offensive language was running rampant in the city in the summer of 1920. The court records were filled with complaints of profane, boisterous and abusive language.


Henry Sickinger was arrested on a complaint of Willard Snyder who charged that Sickinger used offensive language in the presence of Mrs. Emma Snyder much to the lady’s annoyance.  (This had happened in March, but the Willard didn’t get around to filing the complaint until August. You can’t say that Willard was quick to anger.)   Sickinger was arrested; he plead guilty at trial and was fined $3 and costs for a total of $10.60. Helen Brush complained that Edwin Schnepper use profane, boisterous and abusive language calculated to disturb the peace and harmony of the Brush domicile. Edward was arrested, entered a plea of guilty and assessed the same fine.  Arthur Moore was arrested on the complaint of Mrs. Della Davis, who charged Moore with using threatening and abusive language on the playground. She was the matron in charge of the playground and complained that larger boys or rather men, had been in the habit of visiting the playground for the express purpose of showing off.  Moore was fined $3 plus costs.  It was believed that the stiff fine would break up the rowdyism.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Bethel Cemetery


Bethel Cemetery:   The dead who rest in this hallowed place --
Bethel Cemetery 2020
who are they? They came from all walks of life and and more than 13 immigrated here from other countries. They had various vocations to make their living, but mostly they were farmers.  They were the parents who nurtured and, for some, buried their babies and small children. They were community leaders, the unsung heroes, those who served their country in all its conflicts, even seven veterans of the Civil War. There are also those who are buried here known only to God and to their loved ones they left behind a long time ago… gone, but not forgotten. 

John Fish, professional tombstone restorer of Vincennes has reset many of the stones that,  through the years, have fallen over.  A couple of volunteers have used the spring and summer to clean the tombstones. Because the activity is outside, social distancing is possible, unless one of them sees a snake, and then the distance between them is determined by who can run faster....

The hot days of summer have been spent individually researching each of the over four hundred individuals who are buried there. The cemetery has two parts, the south section which is the oldest and a newer section to the north of the older section.

Some of the surnames buried here are: Barker, Beal,  Beesley, Bell, Boyles, Bunn, Butler, Byrun, Carey, Case, Clark, Corrie, Coslin, Couch, Creek, Dacer Daily, Dining, Dorsam, Evans, Feldman, Gaddey, Gaddy, Geisler, Graham, Grounds, Grout, Harness, Hazelton, Hutchings, Ireland, Ivie, Johnson, Jordon, Kelsey,Kocher, Marquart, Milburn, Milligan, Mills, Moore, Osborn, Price, Robinson, Rousey, Sanders, Scaggs, Schrader, Starkman, Stone, Sutphin, Thompson, Welton, Wirth, Yonaka


One hundred years ago notices such as the following would appear in the newspaper.
"Those interested in Brian cemetery  show up Tuesday August 10 with good, sharp scythes and a disposition to use them. Those interested in May Chapel cemetery please bring reap hooks, scythes, rakes and pitch forks on Thursday."

That kind of help is not needed now but Nancy King is interested in talking to anyone with family buried at Bethel. Perhaps you have obits or photos you would be willing to share.  Her number is 618-945-9573.
If you are looking for a drive in the country, visit this lovely little county cemetery. 
Directions to Bethel Cemetery: From Lawrenceville, Illinois travel south on Illinois Route 1 approximately 9.5 miles, turn right (west) onto county road 150 north (St. Fancisville turn off). Travel approximately 5.7 Miles to county road 1600 east, turn left (south) at county road 600 east. Cemetery is located approximately .8 miles on the left (east side) at junction of county road 60 north.